Overall definition and context of the topic
In the EU, 43% of the population live in a NUTS 3 region that lost population due to a natural reduction between 2005 and 2015. Whereas, almost a third of the EU population, 31%, live in a region that lost population due to net outward migration, i.e. more people leaving the region than people entering the region, between 2005 and 2015. The biggest reductions occurred in regions where there was both a natural population decline and a net outward migration . On the contrary, capital metropolitan regions have experienced population growth. At the level of cities, many non-capital, small and medium-sized cities in the EU are facing decrease in population in the last decades, i.e. shrinking cities. The graph above shows the change in population in EU cities, as defined by EUROSTAT, in the period 2012-2017. The phenomenon is affecting in general the EU, and in particular countries in East Europe and in South Europe.
Relevance for and role of urban authorities
Urban shrinkage brings about fundamental challenges for urban societies, planning processes and governance structures. Population decline impacts on almost all arenas of urban life: business and employment, housing, social (including schools) and technical infrastructure, municipal finances, social cohesion, segregation etc. Shrinkage results in a mismatch between supply of and demand for built structures, urban space and infrastructure. It is challenging to steer or govern urban shrinkage because under the conditions it produces, governance arrangements risk becoming unstable and fragmented.
Shrinking cities are particularly affected by the impact of aging population, e.g. the availability of social and health services, and by the evolution of the labour market, e.g. a shrinking active labour force. Both these consequences have a strong impact on sustainable economic development. In addition, suburbanisation or urban sprawl, where the population disperses from the core city toward more peripheral locations within the city regions is among the causes of population decline. Furthermore, outward migration flows from Central, Eastern and Southern Member States also contribute to the shrinking of cities and depopulation.
Acknowledging shrinkage and adapting to economic and demographic conditions, it could be an opportunity for urban authorities to modernise local governance and public services and to reorganise public building and land use policies.
Prompts for urban authorities
Urban authorities are invited to test innovative solutions to adapt to demographic decline, to reverse demographic trends and to attract relevant economic activities and residents for sustainable urban development to counterbalance the effects of demographic decline. Without being prescriptive in terms of the types of projects expected, cities are invited to consider in particular the following points and issues:
- access to community-based social and health services, incentivizing labour force participation through child/elderly care solutions, improve quality of life including through participatory methods with focus on gender and inter-generational dialogue;
- accessibility and sustainability of basic public services;
- reorganisation of existing public infrastructure and services;
- reorganisation of land use and public buildings;
- development of society 5.0, e.g. use of robotics and artificial intelligence;
- development of the "silver economy";
- strengthening the active labour force by retaining and requalifying the local one and attracting active workers;
- stimulating local entrepreneurship, especially for young population;
- Reinforcing the capacity of labour market institutions, vocational education and training facilities and life-long learning.
In parallel with larger cities, attention could also be devoted to smaller and medium-sized shrinking cities. If innovative solutions require an urban-rural interface or functional area approach, it will be possible under this topic to include local administrative units defined as rural according to their degree of urbanization within a project partnership. This exception to UIA eligibility rules, specific to this given topic, will be further specified in the Call’s Terms of Reference.
When applying for this topic, urban authorities shall provide statistical evidence of a population decline which would justify the status of shrinking cities.